the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
I try to listen attentively to musical sounds around me. You can think
of the sounds of daily life as being musical. So I try to absorb the
intricacies of the sounds as I would if I were listening to a piece of music.
I try to see the beauty in everything.
The Music Police
We recently had a couple of guests stay for a week. Nothing special about them, man and wife, middle-aged, very polite and harmless. Our guests sunned themselves, swam and had a good time. But there were problems. The guy was a whistler. Every few minutes, sometimes every few seconds he would whistle something. Phreep-phreep he would go. Used to startle me every time. Wherever he was, even between bites at dinner, he would whistle. In the car he frightened me so much a couple of times when he did it right in my ear that it made the car swerve dangerously.
Tell me, I asked, politely, What is that tune you keep whistling?
No tune, he said, happily.
Well what is it, then?
Just, er, whistle. You know - like - and he whistled me a demo. Right! It was no tune. Just Phreep - phreep.
The trouble is - I spend most of my time when I'm not actually sitting writing a score in going around with it running through my head, checking it. That constant piercing whistle in my ear not only threw me right off balance, and made me have to start the run-through again each time, but switched me into my robo-alien-killer mode. I told Conny halfway through the week that he'd have to stop doing it before I freaked out and gave him something to Phreep about. You'll have to stop whistling, she told him, having taken him aside. I can't, he said.
So I switched off my hearing aid and spent the rest of the week in blissful silence. Still, seeing the constantly pursed lips were enough to set my memory bank in action and I could still hear him in there inside my brain so I didn't look at him any more either. I'm told that he looked puzzled and hurt about that, but it was better than getting robo-alien-killerised, which was what I'd had next on the menu for him. Only one small item brightened one of the days of his visit. I had to go to the local town hall again for something (see previous chapter) and he went with me. The same people were in there and they remembered me. Every time he whistled they all looked at me and wagged playful fingers. It isn't me, it's him, I said, pointing, so they all looked and wagged at him. Poor sod, I didn't have the heart to tell him why.
On the other hand I used to know a guy called Tommy Henderson, a Scot who was with me in the RAF, and who was a great friend of mine because I was playing with Tommy Sampson's band at the time. Anyone who played with that band has a place in the heart of most Scotsmen, even today. Tommy used to come and listen to my record collection and whistle to them. Even if he was hearing, say, a new Woody Herman disc for the very first time he would whistle right through with it, note perfect and accurately phrasing everything that was being played. An amazing feat. How do you do that? I said, but he didn't know. He could do it with symphonies as well. I told him he could make a fortune doing that on television, but I lost track of him when I moved to Germany and I don't know what happened to him.
Some friends of mine in the North of England recently asked me if I could trace Kenny Napper's whereabouts for them. They were shortly having a Royal Signals Reunion, Kenny had been in the Signals with them at the Catterick army camp back in the late 1940s and they wanted him to take part. I discovered that Ken was living in Holland and got his address from dear old Ferdinand Povel, saxophonist extraordinary, who took over the sax job from Herb Geller in Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination & Brass when I was in that band.
Kenny had been the absolutely brilliant bass player in the Johnny Dankworth band when I was in it in the 1950s, together with pianist Alan Branscombe and drummer Ronnie Stephenson. That was a hot rhythm section! I recall one evening chatting to Kenny before we went on to play and he mentioned the final days he'd spent in the army. Apparently he hadn't fired a gun all the time he was in there, and was looking forward to his release in a few weeks' time when the sergeant came up and told him they were short of a man for the regimental rifle team in a competition coming up.
I have never fired a gun in my life, said Ken, expecting that to be the end of it, but they roped him in anyway. After they'd all had the usual range sergeant's screaming advice to look straight ahead and don't turn around and don't point the bleedin' things at me they took a pot or two at the targets and Kenny blasted the centre completely out of his with his first five shots.
STOP! screamed the sergeant and they wound in the targets and there was this big hole in the middle of Ken's. Not just a bulls-eye, he'd almost disintegrated the entire target. Just to make sure they did it again, and he did it again and he wasn't really trying, was he, because he wanted so much to get away from that place. Anyway he was now the Number One Super-Duper crackshot marksman of the entire regiment and the competition was coming up and they kept him in for another six months. I repeated this to my pal up north but he knew it all already because he'd seen it with his own eyes.
I had a touch of gout a few weeks ago and went to see Max, my Dutch doctor, to get one of his Magic Pills. He gave me some little tiny ones, horribly bitter they were, called Colchimax or Colchicum autumnale, made from the bulb of the autumn crocus. Now here's my question - how did they find out about that? According to what I've since read it's a deadly poison and can kill you stone dead, never mind that swelling on your big toe. So how many people actually died getting me these little pills?
There are all kinds of remedies and antidotes to be had for Colchimax poisoning. I've printed them out with instructions for Conny in case Colchicum autumnale decides to take me away suddenly. It was a relief to learn that the Maoris of New Zealand and certain Brown leghorn chickens have a tendency to gout, so I'm in good company. Anyway I phoned Pete Warner about it. Pete's another saxophonist extraordinary, and he told me he had cured his own gout by eating a pound of cherries. Now that I could do, two pounds if necessary, but what does one do when cherries are out of season? I could try the good old tried and tested running around a gravestone at midnight cure, hahaha, as long as it's not my own gravestone.
So the gout has gone and now another problem has cropped up. I told you before that it's all go here in Spain. Well The Music Police have struck again!
In the past they used to call around if you were playing a club in a residential area and tell you to shut it if someone complained about the noise. Never mind the giant speakers of the Taj Mahal disco joint near Calpe that you could hear for a hundred miles in every direction, they would come and shut down your little tiny band if anyone complained about the jazz.
Just recently they descended upon the Cisne Market in Benidorm. Now bands have been playing there for years and years. The market is in the middle of an industrial area, so there's no one around to complain about the noise at the weekend, and the place used to get packed out with people listening to the band of a Saturday lunchtime. The cops came in suddenly, fined the owner of the place and clamped all kinds of suppressors on the guitar and synthesiser amps. They told the drummer he'd have to get himself a drum machine so they could suppress that too. Now you couldn't hear the singers at all. But it was still too loud so they came back the next week and stopped them playing altogether.
That was a Blues Band. Not loud, with some really beautiful singing and playing from all the guys. Eric Delaney used to go on and play a few sets with them every Saturday. The people used to love it, sing along with it, most of them did. Very tasteful, a little jazz, and a welcome relief from the thump-thump-thump you get everywhere else around here. But someone in charge suddenly noticed it. Hey! People are enjoying this! Let's ban it. Just another addition to the long line of gits who are racking their brains to stop us doing the things we've been doing since before most of them were born. Huxley and Orwell saw it all coming, or most of it.
Here's another stupid example. Conny flew to Montevideo a couple of years ago. Started from Amsterdam, landed on the way in Paris. When they took off again all smoking in the plane was banned as long as they were in French airspace. As soon as they crossed the coast and were over the Atlantic everyone lit up with a sigh.
The Music Police cannot win, though. I always like to think of what the Italian peasant said to the GI during the Second World War, when the Americans were driving the Germans out of Italy and all hell was breaking loose around them. After you've gone, I'll still be here, he said. So it is with jazz.
Flash: October 3rd. 2004.
Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved